1 February 2021

PEXforum 2021 – Stop. Look. Imagine. Go.

Storytelling and imagination were two themes of the virtual PEX philanthropy exchange, held 27-28 January 2021 online. Heba Kandil of the Thomas Reuters Foundation drew on her experience as a journalist to illustrate the power of stories of real people when seeking to communicate complex issues. Geoff Mulgan of University College London encouraged us to put imagination at the heart of philanthropy, envisioning positive futures to which we can work together. Other speakers and participants shared stories about philanthropy, about Europe, about collaboration, and encouraged us to write new ones. PEXforum itself was enriched by creative methods and technologies, including many interactive break-out groups, an opening mindfulness session and creative harvesting of our discussions in poetry, song and cartoons.

Illustration by Marina Roa from SenseTribe

Imagination has got us a long way in European philanthropy. It is important sometimes to stop and remember how far we have come. At one time it would have taken a lot of imagination to believe that people from local foundations in every country in Europe – East and West, North and South – would come together to meet, learn, discuss and sometimes work together on common goals. When I first started attending European philanthropy events, a majority of delegates and nearly all people in leadership positions were older men, and we had to imagine (and advocate for) greater equality. When we look around now in PEX, one of the newest philanthropy network spaces, we see a balance of women and men, and people of all ages. Even a year or two ago, it would be hard to imagine an event of over 150 delegates, all meeting online, writing on shared documents, mingling in virtual social spaces, direct from our own homes with no travel involved. Yet that is what we have just been part of.

Let’s imagine our networks into the future. I can picture a future meeting with more people of colour as speakers and participants. A meeting with voices from North Africa. Hearing more new philanthropists and new philanthropy networks, or perhaps hearing from initiatives that have done their work and are now wrapping up. We will all get better at using virtual tools, and the tools will get better still. And beyond ourselves, let’s imagine the progress in the world that we might be hearing of, and helping to bring about. The pandemic over. Climate emissions starting to fall. Nature in recovery. Racism and xenophobia in retreat. Tech working more for the public good. Deeper and more participative democracy. There is so much to aim for: stop, look, imagine, and go.

Nick Perks

Freelance Consultant